February 22, 2022

Bergen pushed O’Toole to back convoy saying there are ‘good people on both sides’: sources

OTTAWA —
Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen pushed predecessor Erin O’Toole to show support for the Freedom Convoy protest, arguing last week there are “good people on both sides,” an echo of the phrase made infamous by former U.S. president Donald Trump after a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

Bergen also told O’Toole and other members of the Conservative shadow cabinet that there were “reasonable people” at the truckers’ protest, just as there were in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Her remarks came during a meeting of the party’s priorities and planning committee in a boardroom of Parliament’s West Block. O’Toole was present at the meeting but didn’t directly respond, according to sources who were present.

Some in attendance were surprised she would evoke the Trump phrase in the context of the truckers’ convoy, which had yet to reach Ottawa.

The sources told CTV News that Bergen believed any political risk Conservative MPs might face if they attended or publicly offered support would be limited as long as they avoided any potentially inflammatory symbols.

As it happened, on Saturday, Alberta Conservative MP Michael Cooper was interviewed by CBC News with a flag bearing a swastika in the background. He later issued a press release condemning the symbols of hate seen at the protest.

Although O’Toole was first reticent about aligning with the protest, he did meet individually with some truckers last week, at a truck stop about an hour’s drive outside of Ottawa.

Bergen’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

In an email Bergen sent Monday, obtained by CTV News, she told other MPs “I don’t think we should be asking them to go home” and proposed that the party “turn this into the PM’s problem.”

She also shared pictures of herself visiting on the Hill with protesters from her home province of Manitoba, tweeting that, “They deserve to be heard and they deserve respect.”

Trump’s phrase – “very fine people on both sides” – drew heavy criticism when he used it to characterize the Charlottesville protest, where white supremacists marched with torches and Nazi and Confederate flags, chanting anti-Semitic slurs. One counter-protester was killed at Charlottesville.

The Conservative caucus chose Bergen as interim leader Tuesday night, after voting out O’Toole as leader.

On Friday afternoon, she released a statement calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to provide a “clear plan to end the situation in Ottawa.” The protest is now in its seventh day.

She also called on truckers in Ottawa to “”please remain peaceful. Call out and denounce any acts of hate, racism, intolerance or violence.”

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